Gentle summer breezes, water-misting fans, and one creamy ice cream cone is all it takes to fit in throughout Bosnia and Croatia. The sidewalk café culture is alive and rampant here; locals and tourist alike spend hours people-watching or being people-watched.
This shared social activity in the late afternoon and early evenings is an intrinsic part of the Balkan culture. I first witnessed this while traveling in Croatia last month, and it has continued into Bosnia and Herzegovina. The café culture is a tangible part of the social interactions and the fabric of how people interact each day. Towns hum with activity after 6pm as couples, friends, and even singletons stroll through the streets or sip cold drinks at any of the multitude of fairly identical umbrella’d cafes.
It’s been a big change to see locals venture out for the evening dressed to the nines for their stroll. There are overlaps with the life I left last year when I started this round the world trip — the women are dressed in fashion reminiscent of Los Angeles, with funky accessories, chunky shoes, layered clothes, and leggings. I actively fought feeling of frumpy compared to the stylish women strutting along the main walking streets in downtown Sarajevo. After nine months on the road, my clothes were rough. So without many options, I explored alongside these chic women in my grubby backpacker outfits that had survived hand-scrubbings and rock beatings in India.
And I am so glad I didn’t let the fashion fears keep me at home, because the cafe culture has delicious food and drinks to keep you busy all evening. Sampling snacks, ice cream, desserts, and beer are common options in every cafe, but coffee that is the real heart and beating soul of the Bosnia’s socializing cafe culture. Bosnians enjoy coffee every which way imaginable — cappuccino, latte, macchiato, frothy sweet drinks and strong shots of espresso to cap off the evening. During our second day in Sarajevo, my cousin and I met up with her friend Amir, who was once an exchange student at her small high school in rural Washington State fifteen years earlier. Amir introduced us to his girlfriend Inella, who was lovely and sweet and a delight to hang out with throughout the day.
Since Furkan and his roommates had taken us for coffee and sightseeing the day before, we had a leisurely day with Amir and Inella. We strolled through downtown Sarajevo and we found a huge coffee festival taking place, complete with the world’s largest coffee cup! A quick and cheesy picture proves that I saw it in person. Now, once I locate the world’s largest ball of string somewhere in the US my life will be fulfilled! =)
One thing that has amazed me in Bosnia is the sheer height of the people. After traveling so many months throughout South and Southeast Asia, it was bizarre and welcoming to return to a part of the world where my 5’9” frame is normal. But it’s worth noting that, in general, the men and women noticeably tall — taller than average, which I had never before heard about this part of the world. If twenty women walked by me, ten of them were pushing the 6 foot tall, and many of the men soared down the street well over 6 feet tall.
In general, I am loving the vibe in this region of the world. For the next week, my only plan is to soak up the beautiful countryside and culture. Oh, and I just might take one for the team and have a few cups of coffee in the process!